It's there on the North York Moors, at the crossroads of ancient trails, and it's been there since the 1500s. The Lion Inn, or as I was introduced to it by friend and British folk music legend, Richard Grainger, "the Blakey Lion," is a fantastic spot to find a little refuge from all those big concerns of the world, and to just grab a pint of Theakston's Old Peculier, warm yourself by the fire, and forget your woes.
I was first introduced to the Blakey Lion by Richard during the 2009 tour of England by my pirate jam band, There Be Pirates!. We toured northern England that year and the following, before the financial crash of 2008 caught up with festival funding and it was no longer viable to fly in some rowdy pirate band from California. What a shame.
But during our tours, we often played heavy schedules during the weekend, and one or two weeknights, as well as rehearsing, but there was time for exploring the British countryside. I'll write more about how much I love this part of England in other stories, but when Richard first took me to the Blakey Lion, well, it was love at first sight.
The North York Moors National Park is historic and stunningly beautiful. The Blakey Lion sits pretty much smack dab in the middle of it, with ancient trails and burial mounds scattered across the landscape. In 2009, I had been staying some of the time with Richard and his wonderful family, in Commondale. But somehow, we found the time to get out in between the 10th anniversary of Sea Fest in Scarborough, and performances in Staithes, Osmotherly, and the excellent Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole (where there was a delightful tea room nearby that served their own smoked trout, which was superb). We also entertained a bit at the birthday party for one of Richard and Jeannette's sons in Danby (I'm trying to remember which one, though I think it's Hadden, since his birthday is in August).
Not far from "the Lion" as many folks refer to it, this remote bastion of hospitality, stands Old Ralph's Cross, where travelers would leave a coin or two (if they had it) for those weary wanderers who may find themselves in dire straights. If you needed a coin for a meal at the Lion, you could take one, and this kindness may have saved an occasional life or two, as walking the moors could be bitterly cold, hard business.
There are Neolithic burial mounds nearby, including the grave at Loose Howe, where a Bronze Age chieftain was buried in a boat-like oak coffin, armed and ready for his voyage. There are signs of the Roman occupation of Britain in the area, and the origins of the inn may creep back to early times, perhaps during the reign of King Edward III when the Order of Crouched Friars may have set up shop, or at least sought comfort in a friary inn in Blakey.
Making a go of it on the moors at Blakey could never have been easy, which is perhaps why the hospitality there truly shines. Maybe we appreciate it all the more (no pun intended), because it exists among inhospitable surroundings, like the proverbial desert oasis (of which I have several favorites and shall write about those elsewhere).
For some time, mines nearby helped provide the Blakey Lion with regular patrons. But those began to close in the early part of the 20th century. Luckily, however, the advent of the automobile countered the loss of the miners by providing tourists - and the occasional thirsty pirate.
Weary travelers, or even those not so weary, can enter the dim, comfortable environs of the Lion, hang up their coat, warm by the fire, and call for a pint of Old Peculier, which happens to be my favorite beer in the entire world. Not only is it utterly delicious, but Old Peculier apparently cures virtually everything, and has a fine song written about it, which I occasionally am known to belt out, especially when delightfully surprised with a pint or seven of Theakston's finest ales.
In addition, the Blakey Lion serves up a hearty and tasty fare, ranging from a giant Yorkshire pudding with gravy, deep fried brie, duck breast in orange sauce, a homemade steak and mushroom pie, or even Old Peculier Casserole, that includes my favorite ale as one of its ingredients. When I was last there, I had a rather large game pie with Old Peculier gravy. Venison, rabbit, pheasant, and perhaps something else, with a sumptuous brown Old Peculier gravy. I washed it down with a couple pints of Old Peculier, and knew what it was to be completely and utterly satisfied and at peace with the world. I wanted to move in and stay at the Inn - and you can stay there and hike the moors (if your pirate band doesn't have a gig in Osmotherly the next evening). Yes, I would have sent for my wife, just in case you were wondering (I think she'd love long hikes across the moors with a warm, welcoming inn beckoning at day's end).
I fully intend to return to stay at The Lion Inn someday, to hike the beautiful moors again, and to enjoy the company of an old friend. Should you find yourself in this part of England, I heartily recommend taking time with the North York Moors National Park, and spending an afternoon or evening in the Blakey Lion (or spend the night or several if you have time).
Until I return, the Blakey Lion has laid claim to a piece of my heart, and perhaps, my soul. I think of it often, a refuge, a respite, a haven for this weary traveler.
If you should find yourself at the Blakey Lion, hoist a pint of Old Peculier and think of me. To absent friends.
Most of the touring crew of There Be Pirates! at the bar of the Blakey Lion, above. The crew and I out on the moors nearby, below.